Low temperatures could bring heating bill shock for some

Residents encouraged to take small steps to lower their costs.

Cold temperatures on Tuesday forced many area people to turn up their home thermostats and by this time next month they’ll receive bills that are expected to be much larger this year.

Heating bills are expected to increase by 17% — costing about $177 more on average this season and reaching the highest cost in more than a decade, according to a National Energy Assistance Directors Association report.

And how people heat their homes will dictate how much theirs heating bills will increase, the report said.

  • For families that use natural gas for heating costs are expected to rise $243, up 34%, with bills hitting $952 on average.
  • Households that use heating oil may see costs rise $239, up 13%, to $2,115 on average.
  • Propane-heated households could pay $241 more, up 15%, to $1,828 on average.
  • Homes that get their heat from the electrical grid could see a more modest cost increase: up $86, or 7%, to $1,328.

Tim Snyder, an economist with Dallas-based Matador Economics, said there are multiple reasons behind the price increase including an effort from the current administration to reduce the amount of fossil fuels and global issues including the war between Ukraine and Russia.

Even with the looming price increases, there are steps people can take in their homes or apartments to lower their bills.

Letting the sun heat a home by opening curtains and shades, cleaning heating systems and vents of any dust and sealing any air duct leaks are ways to keep heating bills down, the U.S. Department of Energy said.

“Lower the temperature at night. While you want the house to be comfortable during the day, adding an extra blanket to your bed may allow you to lower the thermostat 10-15 degrees, cutting heating costs up to 10% per year,” the federal agency said.

Programmable thermostats and house humidifiers are investments that can be made now and could pay for themselves quickly, Butler Heating and Air Conditioning Owner Nick Lamb said.

“Some people who have older systems that are looking at potentially replacing them anyway because of age or because of some repair issues, they are really curious about the new energy-saving features built into some of the newer equipment,” Lamb said.

Customers have shared concerns about the expected rising costs to heat their homes this year, he said, but even as the cold weather has started to surface there is still time to make upgrades and take advantage of the potential savings.

“The most cost-effective or lowest cost solution would be a programmable thermostat so you can program the temperature to be higher while you’re there and lower while you’re away,” Lamb said, adding that there is now technology that can detect whether a person is home by connecting to a person’s phone and will adjust the temperature accordingly.

Checking and replacing old filters is also a good way to keep costs down, Lamb said.

CenterPoint Energy’s Ohio distributes natural gas to approximately 330,000 customers in this region. The company is offering a number of payment assistance options to help customers who will be impacted by the increase, the company said.

“Given the volatility of the natural gas market, customers can choose a fixed price that won’t fluctuate over the winter months. Since natural gas represents nearly half of customers’ bills during the winter months, now would be a good time to explore supplier pricing options that are most beneficial to your needs,” said Ashley Babcock of CenterPoint Energy, which is not a supplier of natural gas.

The company said heating with natural gas is still the cheapest way to warm a home. Those who used gas paid about $1,000 less than those who used propane and between $50 to $650 than those who used electricity, the company said.

“We recognize the financial hardships our customers may be facing this heating season, and we want to encourage them to contact us for options to assist in managing costs prior to their first high bill of the heating season,” Babcock said. “Additionally, customers needing further financial assistance can apply for programs available through our local community action agencies and local non-profits.”

Staff reporter Eric Schwartzberg contributed to this report

Winter heating costs

The following is a list of tools provided by CenterPoint Energy to help reduce costs or make them more affordable this winter.

  • Choice program: Through CenterPoint Energy’s natural gas Choice program, customers can choose a natural gas supplier that’s right for them. Competing suppliers offer more pricing options for consumers, such as locking in a fixed rate, which allows them to comparison shop for energy the way they do for other products and services. Customers who do not choose a third-party supplier are served by one of five default Standard Choice Offer suppliers at a variable rate. Visit http://www.centerpointenergy.com/choice for a list of suppliers and up-to-date prices.
  • Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP): State and federal utility assistance dollars are available for income-eligible customers. Households must fall at or below 175 percent of federal poverty guidelines to apply. Visit www.development.ohio.gov or call (800) 282-0880 to learn more.
  • HEAP Winter Crisis Program: The HEAP Winter Crisis Program provides assistance once per heating season to eligible households that are disconnected or are threatened with disconnection. Households must fall at or below 175 percent of federal poverty guidelines to apply. Visit www.development.ohio.gov or call (800) 282-0880 to learn more.
  • Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP Plus): PIPP Plus calls for a qualified household to pay 5 percent of its monthly income for gas service throughout the year. To be eligible for the PIPP Plus program, a customer must receive his or her primary or secondary heat source from a company regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, must have a total household income which is at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level and must apply for all energy assistance programs for which he or she is eligible.
  • Due Date Extension and Payment Arrangement: These are two free offerings which are available to customers in need of a special payment plan on a temporary basis in order to keep service connected and manage energy costs.
  • Energy efficiency resources: CenterPoint Energy offers energy efficiency tips, appliance rebates and energy-saving tools to help customers lower their natural gas bills. All Ohio residential and small commercial natural gas customers are eligible. Visit www.centerpointenergy.com/smartsavings or call 1-800-227-1376 for a list of rebates, qualifying appliances and energy efficiency tips.
  • Budget Bill: Under this billing plan, a customer’s estimated costs for a year of gas service are spread in equal monthly bill amounts for the year. This leveling of monthly bill amounts reduces the need to pay the full amount in the winter and spreads some of those higher bill charges into the non-heating months. Amounts are adjusted each summer for actual costs, and the customer’s credit or amount due rolls into the next Budget Bill payment for the next 12-month period. Customers can enroll for free on www.centerpointenergy.com or by calling 1-800-227-1376.
  • Home weatherization: CenterPoint Energy’s home weatherization program helps qualifying Ohio customers implement energy efficiency improvements to their homes at no cost. Households must fall within 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines to apply. Visit www.miamivalleycap.org to learn more.

Source: CenterPoint Energy

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